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Even “Full Service” Agencies Specialize: Here’s Why

Posted by Mark Duval on Oct 24, 2019, 8:16:58 AM
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As promised, I’m drilling down further on the positioning of the “full service”-classified agencies from Adweek’s list of the 100 Fastest-Growing Agencies. 

I tracked positioning on the agency websites, positioning in Google search results, and on social media profiles. Here is the Google sheet I used for tracking. 

full service agency

As suspected, only twenty-five of the fifty-nine agencies classified as full-service on Adweek’s list of the 100 fastest-growing agencies uses the term “full service” in their positioning. So it would be incorrect to interpret the large proportion of “full service”-classified agencies on Adweek’s list as a sign that generalization is now the best path to agency growth.

Digging into agency positioning is always an interesting exercise. Some agencies are better than others in terms of the quality and consistency of their positioning across channels. In this case, we are starting with a group of agencies that we already know are quite successful at what they do. So even if their positioning is not as strong as it could be, they are still delivering a quality of service and experiencing a level of demand that is compensating for any positioning weaknesses.

What are some of the positioning weaknesses?

Twenty-five of the agencies used the term “full service” in their positioning. There are a couple of reasons why I’m not a big fan of this strategy. One, as you can see here, it’s very redundant. Two, in my experience, a lot of agencies that claim to be “full service” don’t have the staff or the skills to do it justice, so that position can end up hurting an agency’s reputation. 

Here are all the agencies positioning as “full service” on our list:

  • "full-service creative company"
  • “Full service creative advertising agency”
  • “Full service marketing agency”
  • “A modern full service agency”
  • “A full-service national advertising agency”
  • “A full-service digital marketing and influencer marketing agency”
  • “A full-service, creatively driven digital-first brand advertising agency”
  • “A full-service agency”
  • “Full-service creative agency”
  • “A full service digital communications agency”
  • “A full service marketing consultancy”
  • “Full-service experiential design agency”
  • “A full-service digital marketing agency”
  • “A full service marketing & public relations firm”
  • “A full-service inbound marketing agency”
  • “An award-winning, full-service (and 100% virtual) branding, marketing, and communications agency”
  • “A full-service digital agency”
  • “A full service, independent marketing agency”
  • “A full service independent marketing agency” 
  • “An independent, full-service advertising agency”
  • “A full-service digital marketing agency”
  • “A full service marketing & public relations firm”
  • “A full service real estate marketing company”
  • “A full-service digital agency”
  • “A full-service strategic health and science communications agency”

 

Despite this redundancy, most of these agencies distinguish themselves elsewhere in their positioning statements. Of these twenty-five agencies describing themselves as “full service,” eighteen of them narrow their target further to stand out in their positioning, whether by target industry, service area, or both. Some of those are visible above.

“Full service” is not the only over-used terminology. Other examples of less original agency descriptions:

  • “A creative agency”
  • “An independent creative agency”
  • “A Creative Agency”
  • “Independent creative agency”
  • “An award winning independent advertising agency”
  • “Advertising agency”
  • “A modern creative agency”

 

Three of those seven further narrow their target to stand out in their positioning by industry target, service area, etc.

specialization agency

Most of the “full service” agencies are specialized

The majority of these agencies express some type of specialization in their positioning. I tallied up those specializations by type (though “unique” is subjective, and where more than one specialization was present, I chose what I considered to be the most significant one).

Agency Specializations by Type:

  • Industry: 8 agencies
  • Regionally-specific: 3 agencies
  • Service:12 agencies
  • Unique organization or approach: 15 agencies
  • Unique service or product: 3 agencies

 

Why does a more specialized agency position make sense? Because specialists can charge more than generalists, and an agency with a niche is likely to enjoy better margins. Peter Caputa of Databox says he finds niche agencies’ margins are “always ten percentage points higher than the generalist agencies he knows.”

What are some different ways to create a niche?

Picking an industry vertical to serve is one of the most common ways to create a niche. You can also target a geographic region, focus on a service niche (what you do), or create a niche based on methodology (your approach to what you do). Other ways to go niche include specializing in a target audience.

Here are some examples:

  • Experiential marketing (service niche)
  • Sports and recreation (industry vertical)
  • Focus on West Coast businesses (geographic niche)
  • Building websites (service niche)
  • Educational companies (industry vertical)
  • Reaching millennial audiences (audience targeting)
  • Brand strategy (service niche)
  • Nonprofit marketing (industry vertical)
  • Website design for real estate business (combined service and industry vertical niche)
  • Video production for luxury brands (combined service and industry vertical niche)

 

To be effective, your niche should be big enough to support your agency’s client roster but focused enough to support your specific expertise and minimize competition. 

Can your agency generate more new business by honing in on a specialization?

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Image credits: ©Adobe Stock/Iosif Yurlov; ©Adobe Stock/Phawat

Topics: Agency New Business

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